“Don’t you wish you could see it just once in your lifetime, Lyra?”
Staring dreamily into the night sky, trying to see something other than tiny points of light littering the dark pitch of space, my little sister sighs. “Maybe it would be worth it…”
“No! Don’t ever say that.”
The force of my words jars her from her reverie. She looks at me, sucking her lower lip between her teeth in petulance. “You don’t know,” she pouts. “Nobody knows...”
Immature for her twelve years of age, the jutting of her lips increases the severity of her angular face making her seem like a much younger child. She fixes light blue eyes—so pale they are nearly colorless—on me in an unspoken challenge. And while I can barely stand to reprimand her, it must be done.
“Nobody comes back! Every single person who has missed the locking of the vaults has disappeared without a trace. Not even their remains were found.”
She takes a minute to absorb what I have said. The moment it sinks into her child’s brain, a small shiver trembles its way up her spine. “Still…”
Even when being difficult, Quil is breathtaking in her loveliness. Pale, translucent skin with a pixie’s pointed face, tiny in stature and long straight hair that sways against her hips as she moves; she is the epitome of feminine delicacy. When she comes of age, she will have no difficulty attracting a husband.
My sister’s mirror opposite, I am considered abnormally dark. Hair so yellow it is the hue of flax, a peach tint to my skin and violet eyes; I retain too much color to fit my colony’s ideal of beauty. At sixteen years of age, they have already written me off as a spinster—a destiny I’ve no choice but to accept.
In the distance, the great horn sounds. Three sharp blasts signal time to quit the colony orchard and return home before daybreak. Grabbing a final green apple from the lower branches, I consider adding it to our already full bushel before taking a small bite. The tart juice fills my mouth as I savor the crisp fruit. Two more delicious bites and then I hand the apple to Quil, sharing it in the way sisters so often do. As she finishes our snack, I pick up the heavy bushel and balance it against my hip for the short walk back to the vaults.
“Lyra, when was the last time anyone saw a sun-dweller?”
“A long time ago. Decades before our time.”
“Then how do we know they’re still out there?”
“Because… if they weren’t, those who miss the locking of the vaults would live to tell about it.”
“Get a move on girls! It’s nearly time to seal the vaults.” Regulus, the vault-keeper, says the same thing as we return each night. His nearly white eyes rake sharply over our brimming basket of fruit, our labors of the night. “Come on before the sun-dwellers get you and eat the flesh from your bones.” There is comfort in his constancy.
Behind us the final warning echoes, two sharp blasts of the colony horn. At the next sounding the vaults will close, without consideration or exception, until the new night dawns.
I don’t know who first thought of constructing the vaults to protect us from falling prey to the sun-dwellers. Whoever it was lived and died generations before mine. But their legacy lives on, existing in one hundred and sixty-eight structures of impenetrable concrete that comprise the cornerstone of our modern civilization.
A final blast signifies the closing of thick steel doors followed by the soft whir of the complex locking system that give our vaults their name. Fixed with light sensors, the doors will remain sealed until night falls again. Although accustomed to life nocturnal, for a moment I cannot help but wonder what it would feel like to experience the sun.
Depositing our bushel in the massive storage room off the common area, we take our allotted rations of spring fruits and vegetables for the morning meal and wind our way through the dim catacomb-like interior to our family dwelling. Dark as a tomb, even the wash of yellow artificial light cannot dispel the gloom of the only home I’ve ever know.
Mother already has a pot simmering on the fire, ready to boil our rations into a fine stew. The fruit from previous day—raspberries and gooseberries—has been baked into a pie and now sits cooling on the rough wooden table. The heady, sweet smell permeates the air as we enter, making my mouth water.
For an instant home is pure bliss, but then angry voices from the adjoining room intrude upon the moment to remind me that today is an anniversary. And for my family, not a happy one.
“I still say we should hunt them down—kill them in their sleep.” My uncle’s harsh words are thick with wine.
“And what if they cannot be killed?” asks my father, doing his best to be the calm voice of reason despite his own overindulgence. “What if we cannot make it back to the colony before sunrise? What if we miss the locking of the vaults?”
Quil and I press closer to the doorway, eavesdropping to hear my uncle’s surly answer. “I’m not afraid of what lies beyond the fields. I’d cross our borders and face the forbidden forest to get my revenge, I would.”
A sharp wail pieces the air, followed by a muffled “there, there, dear.” The latter is my mother, doing to best to comfort her sister in her grief.
My aunt howls, “Sirius was only sixteen! He’d be a man of five and twenty now. I’d be a grandmother.”
“There, there, dear.”
Sirius, my cousin and my aunt and uncle’s only child, missed the locking of the vaults nine years ago. He never returned—cannibalized by the sun-dwellers when he was my age.
My aunt continues her just lament. “They killed my boy, my only child.”
The persistent tug of Quil on my sleeve pulls my attention back into the kitchen. Rising up on her toes she whispers to me, “What if Sirius isn’t dead? What if he lives with them?” When I don’t answer her, she clarifies, “You know, the sun-dwellers.”
Her suggestion is ridiculous! Everyone knows sun-dwellers eat their victims. It is foolish—foolish and dangerous—to indulge in fantasies to the contrary. “Don’t be daft,” I hiss at my lovely, foolish sister. “And don’t you dare say anything. It is not your place to deny them their grief.”
“Yes, Lyra.” Although she is perfectly contrite, her obeisance seems hollow. Quil has never accepted truths easily. Unconvinced by her act, I wonder what kind of delusions my silver-haired sister harbors and if they are the kind that could get her killed?
Next nightfall Quil and I collect our empty bushel and leftover stew and head toward the orchard with the others. Because it is harvest time, classes are suspended so that every able-bodied citizen may gather. There is much needing to be done before the imminent arrival of winter, so the entire colony works as one during harvest to ensure its survival for another year.
The atmosphere is festive as we exit the vault with our home-woven baskets and bags. For most of the students, the nights spent in the orchard are a welcome relief from the libraries with their dreary histories chronicling our civilization. The one exception is my little sister, who devours books under the illusion that if she studies hard enough, one day the mysteries of the universe will open before her like the night-blooming cereus.
I, like my classmates, have been anticipating the long fall nights spent out of doors. Tonight is especially fine. The warm wind brushes against us, its caress made sweeter by the knowledge that at any moment the temperature will plummet.
As we walk, Quil’s fine shiny hair lifts in the breeze and scatters about her like the gossamer strands of a spider’s web blowing gently in the moonlight. The soft tendrils graze my cheek like a whisper. Each burst of contact envelopes me in her clean scent of honeysuckle and soap.
Little Arcturus, who is in my sister’s class but a full head shorter than Quil, pushes past us, shouting enthusiastically, “The last one there is a foul, filthy sun-dweller!”
Tugging my sleeve to capture my attention, Quil asks in a whisper, “Lyra, why do we hate them so?”
“Because they’re horrible, depraved monsters.”
“But how do you know?” Her chin juts forward in rebellion, her pale eyes ready to reject any explanation I offer.
I want to say, our history, our leaders; our very existence teaches us so. Why would we live in the vaults, locking ourselves in by day, if it were not the truth?
But the expression on her face tells me persuasion is futile. Instead I warn, “Questions like that will only get you in trouble.”
She makes no further arguments, but as we settle into the task of picking apples I catch her furtive glances toward the forbidden forest. As usual, she does a poor job of masking her wistfulness as imprudent ideas percolate in her child’s brain.
The night goes quickly as I harvest fruit and keep a wary eye on my innocent, subversive sister. When the three sharp blasts pierce the quiet, indicating time to stop, I am surprised at the hour.
Slipping lithely from her lower branches, Quil smiles up at me, chirping, “Two hundred and three apples. I’m going to see if I picked more than Arcturus. I’ll meet you in the storage room, Lyra.”
I watch her scamper off, relived she seems to have recovered from her rebellious melancholy. As I climb down, I think about Quil and Arcturus. They are merely children—friends, for now—but when the boy matures and shoots up in height, he will be one of the most likely pursuers of Quil’s hand. My potential brother-in-law.
Agony is instantaneous. Something sharp and unpleasant skewers me. I search in vain for a weapon, the knife or sword that has cut me, but my physical body remains intact, even as my insides shred with pointless yearning.
Trying to outrun my pain, I scoop up my overflowing bushel and half-walk/half-jog back to our vault, planning to lose myself in the deep shadows of the catacombs until my lapse of self pity has run its course.
“Get a move on girl— Where’s the little one off to then?” Regulus breaks from custom to ask me a gruff question. His colorless eyes peer from beneath bushy white eyebrows waiting for a satisfactory answer.
“No worries. She returned with Arcturus. By now she’s probably waiting for me in storage.”
“Nay, Lyra. Arcturus returned alone. I witnessed it with my own eyes.”
For a minute his words have no meaning for me, so sure am I that Quil waits within. Then something clicks—the wistfulness, the furtive glances… the forest. In order to speak to Arcturus, she would’ve crossed the length of the orchard, right up to the forest’s border. Instantly, I know Quil’s true purpose was never to talk to her friend, but to slip into the forest unseen.
Trying to temper my panic, I set down my bushel saying, “She must have gotten confused. I said to meet in storage, but she must be searching for me in the orchard. I’ll go fetch her.”
Turning on my heels, I take a few brisk steps when I hear the vault-keeper’s gravelly voice at my back. “Best run, girl.”
By the time I reach the edge of the forest at the far end of the orchard I am out of breath. Despite the flaming in my lungs I push forward, moving over the uneven terrain as best I can. Pausing with my hands on my knees, I gulp down a large swallow of air and shout Quil’s name. Stumbling forward another forty paces, I pause and call out again.
Trying to put myself in her head, I attempt to think like my foolish, harebrained sister. Successfully slipping into the forest, camouflaged by densely crowded trees, where would she go? What would she want?
Scanning the patchy horizon, I search for any type of break that would indicate a clearing, a good vantage point to see the sky by day. Guided by the break in the canopy up ahead and the growing expanse of lightening sky, I find the spot. And although I do not see her, I know instinctively she is close.
Something beyond the glade draws my eyes, a flash of silver-white movement in the shadows. “Quil! Come here this instant!”
Her eyes are huge with shame at being caught. As she steps into the clearing I go to her, gripping her shoulders so savagely my nails bite into her pale, unmarred skin. Shaking her violently, I shout, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Ow, Lyra! You’re hurting me.”
Continuing to grip and shake with excessive force, I want this child, who has never experienced the sting of discipline in her life, to hurt. As her head whips back and forth under my fury, I tell her the pain of my wrath is nothing compared to sun-dwellers. “Is that what you want Quil? To die a slow painful death as they eat you alive?” Shoving her away, I watch as she stumbles and lands hard on her backside.
Stunned by my brutality, she gazes up at me crestfallen. Fat tears slip from the rims of her eyes, rolling in colorless synchronicity down her porcelain cheeks. In a tiny broken voice she says, “I just wanted to see the sun, Lyra. Just once.”
Two sharp horn blasts piece the impending dawn. The final warning.
Quil’s already huge eyes grow impossibly wide with fear as she scrambles to her feet. “The vaults!”
In a typical child’s fashion, the implications of her impulsive behavior only register after the damage has been done. Pushing at her back to propel her forward, I order, “Run!”
Much faster than me, Quil pulls ahead before we are even out of the glade. Quick and lithe, she dodges trees as she flies over the treacherous terrain. Exhausted and awkward, I stumble in her wake, doing my best to keep pace. “Run Quil!” I shout to her. “Run fast! I am right behind you.” Up ahead I glimpse the clearing and the orchard. At a full run we will just make the vaults in time.
Finding hidden reserves of strength and speed, I push myself to go faster. Harder. I concentrate on the orchard, hurrying across the uneven ground. Suddenly my foot catches, ensnared by a thick vine. My momentum propels me forward even as my feet leave the ground. For a second everything slows as my body sails though the air, horizontal to the earth. Then the forest is rising up to meet me—or rather I am crashing down to it. A thick tree trunk fills my vision as I tumble forward. A split second before understanding sets in, I hear a deafening thwack. With horror, I realize the sound is the impact of my head striking the tree just as everything fades to black.
“Is she alive?”
“I think so.”
“Seems to be…”
“Is she—you know—one of them?”
Them? Searing pain inside my head. And worse, a piercing brightness assails my senses, blinding me. I have been lying still, but the need to shield my eyes from the invasion of light overpowers me. Wrapping my arms over my burning head, I do my best to curl into a protective ball.
“I guess we can ask her.” The voice, deep and male, is closer and I know without looking he has bent over me. His excitement, apparent yet controlled, is discernable as he inquires, “Are you a moonwalker?”
“Careful Percy,” the other voice, also male, cautions from some distance.
“Well?” the first voice, presumable Percy, demands politely.
I cannot answer. My throat is too dry and my reply comes out a strangled moan. Pain sears my body from the inside out and all I can hope, for better or worse, is it ends soon. The mercy of a quick death…
“Here.” Gently, he pushes at my hands and something dark falls over my brow. Fabric, sheer enough to see through but dark enough to filter out much of the light, covers my burning eyes.
Offering no resistance as he lifts me up, the boy ties the dark material around the back of my head. I wait for the restraints on my hands and feet that will surely follow, but instead a large hand slides down my back, applying enough pressure to raise me into a sitting position.
I try to clear my parched mouth to thank him, but it is as dry as sand. Something between a grunt and a wheeze rattles through my throat causing me to suck in oxygen like I’m suffocating.
“Cass.” Still supporting me with his hand, the first boy orders, “Some water, please.”
“I heard they only drink blood,” cautions the other but hands over the water skin anyway. The one holding me lifts the skin to my lips and I take a long, cool drink.
“Thank you,” I manage before drinking again.
Despite the fabric over my eyes, I can see him clearly. Eyes the burnished brown of simmered chocolate, but with the luminescence of the harvest moon, regard me gravely from underneath dark lashes and brows. His short brown hair is the color of chestnuts and curls about his ears in soft waves. Ruddy-cheeked, his rosy flush produces twin blooms against his umber skin. Full red lips are the boy’s single feature that bears any resemblance to my people. Or to me.
“This is Cassius,” he continues, gesturing to the other several paces away. Resting back on his heels, Perseus’ large open smile—whether from fascination or the anticipation of a human meal, I cannot be certain—reveals pearly white teeth. Cassius, the other one, is much darker than his counterpart with thick ebony hair so black it is nearly blue and wary obsidian eyes.
They are so dark—so different—I cannot help but stare. “Are you sun-dwellers?”
Perseus nods. My heart speeds as terror momentarily grips me; but in my injured, mostly blind state, I realize escape is futile. So acceptance pervades…but I still have to ask, to know the worst to come. “Are you going to kill me?”
Quirking a dark eyebrow, a wry smile tugs at the corners of Perseus’ mouth. “That depends...” Looking me over from head to toe, he demands, “Are you planning to feed on us?”
“What?” It takes me a moment to process his question. Perseus waits, clearly amused, but Cassius inches away, doing his best to keep his own terror in check. “No!” I stammer. Unable to hide my revulsion, my face screws into a disgusted grimace. Then squaring my shoulders indignantly, I add, “I only eat fruits and vegetables. You seem to be neither.”
“And drink blood,” Cassius interjects. “Everyone knows moonwalkers drink human blood.”
Feeling slightly revived, I shake my head, angrily refuting his statement. “Everyone knows sun-dwellers feed on human flesh!”
Cassius—such a darker version of his friend—opens his mouth to protest but the boy in front of me silences him with a mere gesture. “What is your name, moonwalker?”
“Lyra.” I stick my chin out proudly. Preparing for a fight, I tense my muscles, determined not to be easy prey for these cannibals despite my weakened state.
“Cassius.” Perseus turns to his swarthy friend. “Do you promise not to eat Lyra’s flesh?”
“Of course I won’t—eat her flesh, I mean—ridiculous lies!”
Turning back to regard me, he asks with mock severity. “And Lyra, do you vow not to drink Cassius’ blood?”
“How many times must I tell you, I don’t drink blood.”
“Perfect.” Perseus looks from his friend to me with a satisfied grin. “Now that we have cleared things up, how about we get down to the business of knowing one another?”
Cassius frowns, his dark countenance becoming even blacker. “How did you come to be in the forbidden forest?”
“Maybe it’s not forbidden for her kind, Cass.”
“It is,” I assure them. “I didn’t mean to be in the forest.”
“Then why are you?” Again, Cassius’ sharp questioning.
“My sister, uh, wandered off. I went after her. Fell. Hit my head.” Raising my hand gingerly to above my right temple, I locate the spot of impact, flinching as my fingers make contact with the tender skin.
“Let me.” Perseus’ voice is gentle as he kneels forward filling my vision. He is larger than the boys in my colony; taller, as well as broader, with compact, sinewy muscles. “May I?” he asks, waiting for permission before touching my head. Up close he smells like exotic spices. It is a good, clean scent.
Carefully he parts the hair above my temple. “No blood, that is good.”
Applying pressure he assesses the area around lump, at the same time pulling back to stare anxiously at my face, gauging my reaction. Locking his dark, foreign eyes with mine, his intensity bores deep into me. My stomach clenches, twisting until it does a funny little flip. Suddenly, I wish I had as good an excuse as a head wound to touch him. Instead I fist my hands at my sides, wondering if sun-dwellers can see into a person’s soul.
Although his hands are gentle, when he reaches the raised, tender lump, I flinch and sway. Reacting, he reaches with his other hand to steady me, gripping my shoulder. The movement brings our faces within inches of one another. I cannot help but stare at his dark brows, his ruddy complexion, and his full lips—so like mine.
Perseus’ eyes are alight with curiosity, roaming over me as well. “Your hair,” he murmurs. “It’s like you swallowed sunlight.”
Over Perseus’ shoulder, the other boy scowls. “Percy, we should get back.”
Surprised by the intensity crackling between us, Perseus and I freeze, but neither makes any move to back away from the other. Quietly, I ask, “What time is it?”
“Day?” I question.
Cassius interrupts, his scornful tone heavy with derision. “Don’t you even know what day is?”
“Of course I know what day is. It’s just I’ve never—seen—it before.”
“A moonwalker,” he scoffs, “which is why we need to go.” Cassius takes an impulsive step forward, as if meaning to forcibly drag his friend away. “We’ve been gone too long as it is.”
Perseus stares at me, a silent question dancing in his eyes. The intensity returns as he says, “You go, Cass. Cover for me. Tell them I am out in the far pastures.”
Clearly uneasy about leaving his friend, Cassius tosses him a worn, canvas bag, admonishing, “Make sure you get home before the closing of the repositories.”
“Repositories?” Such a strange word, I cannot help but echo it.
“Our dwellings,” Perseus explains. “They seal at sunset for our protection. Once the repositories close, there’s no way to open them until the new morn.”
His repositories, I think, so similar to our vaults… so similar that I have a crazy, illogical idea. Could the same person be responsible for both? And if so, what does it mean? Could we have more in common with the sun-dwellers then we ever imagined?
Dismissing his friend with a vague wave of his hand, Perseus’ eyes never stray from mine. In my veiled state, I sense, rather than see, the darker boy leave. In his wake the forest is quiet, heavy with expectancy and something else—something more powerful I can’t quiet put my finger on.
Perseus continues to stare without speaking, consumed as if he wants something he is unable to vocalize. When I can not longer stand the intensive quiet, I ask, “Why did you stay?”
The Revolution part 2 http://careycorp1.livejournal.com/862.ht
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